October 1, 2015 § 1 Comment
For all the times I’ve walked by the exercise studio at Sunset and Golden Gate in Silverlake, I’d never registered that its grey walls resemble a blackboard. Sure, the wall would be tagged occasionally and, just as often, quickly painted over. But those were indecipherable, spray-painted territorial markings.
Lovely sentiments, especially given their location on the same block that’s recently undergone Santa Monica-fication.
September 8, 2015 § 1 Comment
Cementing Silverlake’s downward slide into terminal gentrification, the space that once housed a laundromat in the strip mall at Sunset and Parkman is now Bone, Sweet Bone, outpost of a Studio City emporium by the same name. Those among us who lack en suite laundry facilities must look elsewhere, but canine companions need not go without. Daycare, grooming, food, and life’s little luxuries: This doggie boutique has it all.
Meanwhile, the outbreak of chichi on Silverlake’s strip of Sunset near the Junction has spread eastward to the block across from Millie’s. Summer brought a proliferation of shops of the kind that display one resplendent item per square yard amidst a forest of blonde wood shelving.
Gone are the smoke shop and computer repair guys. In their place, Detroit’s Shinola has brought its odd line-up (bicycles, watches, and pricey leather goods). Next to it, Aesop, from Australia, prossibly the world’s sole skin-care company with its own literary magazine, sells high-end body-pampering lotions and potions.
Surf shop Mollusk, its proprietors apparently believing the Silverlake hills must shelter at least a few surfer dudes, rents next to Pop Physique.
In place of the mid-century furniture store, retrofuturesuper [sic] has taken up residence. Lady Gaga and Yoko Ono are known to buy the design firm’s high concept eyeglass frames.
More changes are taking place two blocks away, where Heywood, A Grilled Cheese Shoppe, closed in the spring. (I marvel that it survived four years in that location serving only variations on bread and melted cheese at $10 to 14 a plate.) Yet another coffee bar will open in its place, despite being less than 100 yards from Muddy Paw, throwback to an earlier era, with its fair trade brews and and donations to pet rescue charities.
I feel the need to point out that in the block between these stores selling goods no one really needs at top dollar prices lies Micheltorena Elementary School. Micheltorena’s entire student body—roughly 300 pupils—qualifies for free breakfast and lunch.
A bit of relief from this press of hipster chic comes, surprisingly, from Diablo, the bar/eatery that pushed out family-owned La Parrilla. Diablo originally touted itself as an “Urban Taco Fabricator.” No, really; it used to say so on the outside of the building, right underneath it’s red-on-black name. If you look closely at the photo you’ll see that its pretentious tagline has been quietly painted out.
Sometimes, things do get better.
* To give you a sense of the high regard in which these garments are held, I quote from a Yelp posting by Tyler B. of NYC: These jeans are everything. Seriously, APC makes the best jeans. Never in my life have I had a pair of jeans I’ve adored so much. I’ve been through them all in my life, back in the day I liked Sevens, True Religions and Rock & Republic, you know, jeans that were trendy and loved ONCE UPON A TIME, NOW THEY MAKE ME SICK TO MY STOMACH. I’d rather be a fucking homebody and never show my face in public then wear fucking True Religion, gross. Since then I have tried other designer jeans and I never LOVED them, I never have had a pair of jeans that I truly adored, that truly fit me perfectly and showed my perfect legs…UNTIL A.P.C.
These jeans are so necessary, words really can’t describe. I bought my first pair and the next day went back to the store for more. They mold to your body, you will look amazing as long as you’re not like 300 pounds…actually maybe even then you’ll be okay because these jeans are THAT good.
August 20, 2015 § Leave a comment
As the result of a recent visit, I can unequivocally state that among the many prestigious cultural institutions in our region, the Museum of Jurassic Technology ranks in the top tier.
Created in 1984 by David Hildebrand Wilson as a series of traveling exhibits, the MJT established a permanent home on Venice Boulevard in Culver City c. 1988, its distinguished collection slowly growing over the years to now encompass multiple galleries on two floors.
Mr. Wilson has modeled his institution on kunstkammeren of by-gone eras: “cabinets of wonder” that learned men created for study and edification. The MJT’s focii, as with those earlier accumulations, are natural history and technology, though it does not limit its reach to a specialized audience.
As a Museum document succinctly states:
Like a coat of two colors, the Museum serves dual functions. On the one hand, the Museum provides the academic community with a specialized repository of relics and artifacts from the lower Jurassic, with an emphasis on those that demonstrate unusual or curious technological quality. On the other hand, the Museum serves the general public with a hands-on experience of ‘life in the Jurassic.”
Mr. Wilson has revivified the kunstkammer with professional installations and documentation. Displays situate objects in context-setting dioramas with ample and erudite explanations. The Museum even makes use of advanced Anthropocene technology, such as recorded lectures accessed via telephone handsets.
To his credit, Mr. Wilson has avoided excesses of earlier kunstkammeren, which often gave prominence to the disturbingly deformed and freakish. The MJT presents only uplifting phenomena that, while perhaps strange, add to the sum total of human knowledge about the remarkable world in which we live. A hushed atmosphere throughout the galleries indicates the wonderment and appreciation with which visitors regard its treasures.
As one example of how the Museum makes material accessible, consider the diorama detailing the search for Myotis lucifugus, endemic to the Tripsicum Plateau of the circum-Caribbean region of northern South America. It tells the story of how, during a sojourn among the indigenous peoples of the region, the Dozo, an American ethnographer named Bernard Maston in 1872 heard from locals about a tiny creature with the capacity to fly through solid objects (hence, its colloquial name: Deprong Mori, or Piercing Devil).
Decades later, the eminent chiroptologist Prof. Donald R. Griffith would discover Maston’s notes and, working on the hypothesis that the Deprong Mori was most likely a bat, mounted an eight-month expedition to track this hitherto unknown representative of the Order Chiroptera. In a truly brilliant bit of field work, Prof. Griffith determined that Myotis lucifugus, like all bats, relied upon echolocation for maneuvering, but that its sonar used ultraviolet wavelengths! Furthermore, though the Deprong Mori proved elusive, slipping through nets as easily as it did walls of Dozo huts, Griffith and his dedicated team devised the means to capture and preserve what no one had heretofore been able to lay hands on.
These and other fascinating elements of Prof. Griffith’s singular discovery are illuminated, quite literally, in synchronization with the accompanying narrative.
The museum employs this son et lumiere technique to great effect in the Delani/Sonnabend Halls, which explore the serendipitously intertwined lives of Wilhem Sonnabend, his son Geoffrey, and Madalena Delani, child of Rumanian immigrants who became a world-renowned soprano despite being afflicted with Korsokoff Syndrome, which restricted her short-term memory.
The affecting installation presents gripping details of the efforts of Sonnabend père, a German emigre to Argentina and structural engineer, who oversaw an attempt to bridge Iguazu Falls at its widest and most thunderous point, Garganta del Diablo. Weather-wracked and destroyed before completion, via holography the bridge can nonetheless be viewed as if completed, a stunning accomplishment.
There is much more revealed about subsequent engineering accomplishments of the elder Sonnebend, but it is mere prologue to the magisterial work of Sonnabend fils: his three-volume Obliscence, Theories of Forgetting and the Problem of Matter, the formulation of which was triggered by a performance of romantic lieder sung by Madalena Delani!
I will let you discover for yourselves how the serpentine intertwining of personalities and location brought this about; what is important to know is that the museum does a great service by presenting an encapsulation of Geoffrey’s theories, credited to one Valentine Worth–not an easy thing to do! If this alone were the museum’s sole exhibit, visitors would be amply rewarded.
But there is more—much, much more guaranteed to expand one’s worldview, so that by the time visitors make their way through the portrait gallery of canine cosmonauts to the final, sunlit room at the front of the second floor, one is ready for the glass of graciously-offered tea and tray of cookies, both complimentary.
As if that were insufficient, just a few steps away a rooftop cloister and garden awaits, providing visitors with an opportunity to contemplate the extraordinary things just witnessed, soothed by gentle cooing of white doves that nest on the rooftop. If you are fortunate, Mr. Wilson himself may be present playing one of his renaissance instruments.
The Museum of Jurassic Technology is open Thursday, 2 p.m. to 8 p.m.; Friday, Saturday, and Sunday noon to 6 p.m. Admission is $8, unless you are over 60, a student, or unemployed, in which case you pay $5. Children under 12 are free.
These modest prices are yet another indication how eager are Mr. Wilson and the Museum’s patrons that everyone be able to take advantage of the great, arcane knowledge stored within the MJT’s walls.
As an introduction to David Hildebrand Wilson and the Museum of Jurassic Technology, consider perusing a copy of Mr. Wilson’s Cabinet of Wonder: Pronged Ants, Horned Humans, Mice on Toast, and Other Marvels of Jurassic Technology by Lawrence Weschler. Published in 1995 by Pantheon, the book is out of date yet manages to impart a flavor of what you will find in the actual Museum.
August 4, 2015 § Leave a comment
A lengthy and dense work, Ask your Mama is a scream of a poem—Hughes wrote the entire piece with the caps lock on—a phantasmagorical journey through centuries of injustice, brutality, suffering. Sadly, it never received the full multi-media treatment envisioned by Hughes before he died in 1967.
Then, late in the ‘00s, composer Laura Karpman, in collaboration with soprano Jessye Norman and neo-soul/rap group The Roots, created a fully orchestrated production that premiered at Carnegie Hall and later played to sell-out crowds at the Hollywood Bowl and Apollo Theatre in Harlem.
Earlier this month, Avie Records released a studio recording of “Ask Your Mama” featuring soprano Janai Brugger. She joined the composer on stage at the Central Library to reprise sections of the work. Victoria Kirsch accompanied on piano along with bassist David Young; Taura Stinson provided additional vocals as Karpman led the capacity audience on a tour through her production.
I harbor more than a casual interest in Langston Hughes.
Picture the year: 1963.
Picture the place: an insular small town built of red brick and prejudice
Picture me: ninth-grader, recent transplant, outsider.
Hughes came into my life through the grace of older siblings and the nonchalance of liberal parents who encouraged me to read anything, as long as it wasn’t Nancy Drew. In him I found a companion in outsiderness, an otherness that bound us together and, paradoxically, kept us apart. For both, I remain deeply grateful.
With warp and weft of words, Hughes wove magic carpets that didn’t take me away from the pain of not-belonging but into its belly, transforming distress into art.
This is a song for the genius child.
Sing it softly for the song is wild.
Sing it softly as ever you can—
Lest the song get out of hand.
Abandoned as a child, first by his father and then his mother, Hughes wrote lines that pulsed with loneliness, yet also with hope. He stood in the mire “seeking the stars,” as one of his poems attests. His life and literature abounded with dreams deferred and opportunities seized.
At 19 he left college from the strain of Ivy League racial prejudice. As a 23-year-old bus boy, he shyly, and slyly, slipped his poems to a noted littérateur in a hotel dining room and got his photograph in newspapers across America.
Nobody loves a genius child
Can you love an eagle,/ Tame or wild?/ Wild or tame,
Can you love a monster / Of frightening name?
I alway knew I was an eavesdropper, an interloper, listening to Hughes across the chasm of America’s racial divide. Harlem rent parties, Parisian jazz bands, dark virgins and red stockings, daybreak in Alabama: This was not my world. I might imagine myself a kindred spirit, but the reality of being “Negro” in America was as far from me as the surface of the moon. Through Hughes, I learned about that reality: the lives of domestics and elevator “boys,” sharecroppers and urban party-goers. He introduced me to the Harlem Renaissance, Crispus Attucks, be-bop, lynching, and Jim Crow laws. He pulled back the curtain on a different world and I marveled, albeit from afar.
Nobody loves a genius child.
Kill him—and let his soul run wild!
Hughes plowed literary ground for me so that, when the time came, I could hear James Baldwin and Richard Wright and, too many years later, Zora Neale Hurston, his one-time friend and collaborator. Because of his conscientious words and phrasing, I would read, admire, and even dare to teach Toni Morrison, Alice Walker, Paule Marshall, bell hooks, Audre Lorde.
It all goes back to the Hughes, who addressed the alienation of a 14-year-old white girl, separated by race, a half-century in age, and a literary era long since passed. My affection for Langston Hughes was improbable—and yet, there it was and has remained.
Thank you, Mr. Genius Child.
July 16, 2015 § Leave a comment
It must be five years since the Coffee Table, a beloved Silverlake eatery and gathering place on Rowena, was closed and boarded up, victim of a developer’s scheme to install condos in its place. Eventually it was razed along with a ratty board and care facility and several storefronts; the 1.44 acre parcel then sat empty.
I’ve never thought of myself as one to nurse a grudge, yet every time I walked to Trader Joe’s past the lot devoid of all but opportunistic castor plants, I grumbled at how neighborhoods are forever at the mercy of someone with enough cash to rip the heart out of them.
Two years ago, a sign appeared behind the property’s chain-link fence: “Coming soon! 29 Twenty, Exciting 2 & 3 Bedrooms, Contemporary Design.” A privately-held investment firm based in Miami, Fifteen Group, had acquired the land and stuck a deal with SoCal developer Van Daele Homes to build 33 townhouses (“townhomes” in real estate-speak).
“Soon” was a relative term; nothing happened at the site until March, 2014, when the city affixed notices to three mature shade trees–a Chinese flame and two jacarandas–announcing its intent to remove them for sidewalk widening. That got the attention of neighborhood residents, who countered with their own signs. More than a year later, the trees remain, though still under threat. The city has yet to set a hearing regarding their removal.
Earlier this year, construction finally began: workers graded the parcel, poured concrete slabs, and began work on a concrete retaining wall.
I’ve searched for the source of my annoyance with 29 Twenty: it starts with feeling that despite neighborhood councils and talk of civic engagement, in L.A., new developments happen to us, not because we decide what our neighborhood needs.
Silverlake is a desirable place to live. More families want in and those families need a place to live. I get that.
But why should Silverlake be an enclave for only the well-monied? Floor plans for these units show three-level, attached units from 1,356 to 2,275 square feet, two to three bedrooms, 2.5 or 3.5 bathrooms, and roof top decks. No prices have been listed for the Rowena project, but at Van Daele’s Morton Street development in Echo Park, comparable units start in “the low 800s.”
Both developments feature the glitz du jour: quartz counter tops, stainless-steel appliances, master suites, walk-in closets, multiple bathrooms–though no yards, community gathering spaces, or even green spots.
Los Angeles needs less glitz, more affordable housing, and more ways to build community. The Coffee Table at least gave us the latter; 29 Twenty strikes out on all counts.
July 6, 2015 § 1 Comment
The L.A. Department of Water & Power and the Metropolitan Water District will pay you to get rid of it: $3.75 per square foot for the first 1,500 sq. ft, then $2 up to the maximum 3,000 sq. ft. A good deal for home owners and landlords who are tired of paying $4.83 for every hundred cubic feet of water (~750 gallons) to keep lawns green.
The one condition attached to the California Friendly® Landscape Incentive Program (yes, they’ve trademarked the term): Turf should be replaced with “water wise landscaping features.” Examples given are California-friendly plants, mulch, and permeable pathways. I’ve previously featured two exemplary Silverlake sites (here and here), completed when the rebate was a mere $1.50 per sq. ft.
Now comes Silverlake’s latest low-water entry: this multi-family dwelling on Armstrong Avenue. Its owner will get the rebate, I suppose, because the new landscaping technically meets the program’s requirements. It’s permeable and a rock lawn doesn’t need to be watered.
But a rock pile hardly adheres to the spirit of “California Friendly.” Water wise plants not only use little water, they convert the sun’s rays into self-nourishment and exchange CO2 –the dominant greenhouse gas–for oxygen.
Instead of lowering temperatures as plants would, these rocks will absorb summer’s heat and radiate it long into the night, keeping ambient temperatures high. And unless these are very special rocks, they’re not going to supply us with oxygen.
Gentle Reader, let design-impaired neighbors know that if they want to conserve water, they can simply turn off their sprinklers. Tell them you’re okay with a brown lawn, which will, after all, revive during the next rainy season.
Even Ezekiel, however, could not revive this pile of dry rocks.
May 28, 2015 § 2 Comments
1934 – 2015
In more than 3 decades of living in the United States, Salvadoran national Maria Lorenza Guardado never learned English.
Not that she didn’t try. But speaking the language summoned memories of the January day in 1980 when a Salvadoran death squad kidnapped and tortured her under the direction of a man with an American accent.
That same experience did not deter Guardado’s political activism, however. She was “so militant, so omnipresent, you think there are four or five Marias because everywhere you go, she’s there.” (This from the late Don White, who was himself no slouch when it came to standing up for justice.)*
Born January 15, 1934 in La Union, El Salvador, Guardado began working at 13 to help support her ill mother and 8 orphaned nieces and nephews the family had taken into its household. Stirred by her country’s pervasive poverty and injustice, and despite increasing persecution that put her at risk, she worked with and organized campesinos, teachers, students, and market vendors, joining leftist political movements agitating for change.
As conflict in El Salvador escalated towards civil war, death squads targeted activists of all stripes—teachers, priests, labor organizers, even students—disappearing, torturing, assassinating.
When kidnapped, Guardado was blindfolded, bound, and driven to a secret location. Her captors offered her a bribe to name names, which she would not do. Guardsmen then beat her, applied electrical wires to her breasts and genitals, raped and then sodomized her with a wooden rod, leaving her in a pool of blood.
“I thought I had died,” she said in recounting her ordeal between pauses to quiet the agitation these memories engendered.* Guardsmen revived Guardado only to continue torturing and interrogating, breaking multiple bones and burning her across her body.
Three days later, her captors dumped her naked body on a city street; she had to beg a taxi driver, fearful for his own life, to take her home, “so I could die in my own house.”*
Friends took Maria to San Salvador for medical care, though not to a hospital where she would again be detained. When able, she made her way to Chiapas, Mexico, living for a time with nephews who had fled El Salvador in fear. With Mexican authorities threatening repatriation to El Salvador, Guardado was persuaded by Sanctuary activists to emigrate to the United States where First Unitarian Church of Los Angeles offered refuge. She was granted refugee status after a protracted legal struggle and eventually received treatment for post-traumatic stress syndrome.
Her therapy of choice, however, appeared to be political action. A partisan of El Salvador’s leftist Frente Farabundo Marti para la Liberación Nacional (FMLN), she could also be found at meetings, protests, and vigils for any number of human rights issues: immigration, Palestine, labor rights, School of the Americas. I first heard her speak at a gathering that addressed on-going affects of Agent Orange in Vietnam. For Guardado, all such issues were linked to an over-arching cause: capitalism and imperialism.
Guardado brought realities of U.S.-financed Salvadoran civil war home to thousands of Angelenos, a generous gift given her psychological scars. So much easier to move on, forget, build a new and different life. Instead, she showed us how an indomitable spirit lives and leads.
* Quotations are from the documentary film by Randy Vasquez, Testimony: the Maria Guardado Story, portions of which can be accessed on YouTube.com.